Fast dance saloons

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Top event at Goodwood’s Revival will be the St Mary’s Trophy.David Malsher assesses the chances of the race’s two main stars

Give me Goodwood on a summer’s afternoon and you can keep the rest of the world,” said Roy Salvadori. Perhaps the unspoken part of this was, “And the icing on the cake would be a Jag MkI to thrash around.”

Well, the very MkI he made famous is set to thrill crowds all over again at the 2001 Goodwood Revival Meeting.

I’ve often felt saloon racing is an underrated side of historic motorsport. When Mustangs, Lotus Cortinas et alwere on the support bill at British Touring Car events in the 1990s, they attracted more public attention than all races bar the headline act. Indeed, I still wonder whether they were cast out of the TOCA package because the excitement they generated overshadowed their modem equivalents.

It is to be applauded, therefore, that Lord March, Rob Widdows and the Goodwood team are redressing the balance at this year’s Revival where the saloons will take star billing. The event is the St Mary’s Trophy, run over 20 laps, with two drivers for each car. And what a perfect selection of cars there will be from the 1957-63 period: Jaguar Mkl, II and VII, Ford Galaxie, Lotus Cortina, Alfa Romeo Giulietta, Mercedes-Benz 300, Mini Cooper… the list goes on.

But if the cars are the stars, they shine no brighter than some of the drivers. Sharing the Jaguar Mkl you see here will be Grant Williams and Derek Bell; and though the Galaxie drivers are as yet unconfirmed, some top names who will be competing in this race are: Stirling Moss, Sir Jack Brabham,John Rhodes, Bob Tullius, Frank Sytner, Gerry Marshall, Jackie Oliver, Johnny Herbert, Win Percy, David Leslie, Will Hoy, Stuart Graham, Dieter Glemser, Rosemary Smith and Warwick Banks.

Each driver has to complete at least five laps, so cars will have to pit somewhere between laps six and 15. And knowing how these things go, seconds lost in the pits will cost dear ly. It will require fitness from the drivers, slickness from the back-up crew, and of course, speed and consistency on the track. Twenty laps is long enough to expose mechanical frailty and 15 laps is enough to tire unfit drivers in cars without power-steering; but it isn’t quite long enough to recover from any major blunders after about half-distance. The need to fulfill that cliché of pace and consistency should ensure this race lives up to its billing.

To find the requisite qualities in two drivers will be an even greater feat, but Anthony Williams, in my opinion, has it spot on by partnering his son Grant with Le Mans legend Bell. Grant scored major points in the crowd-pleasing stakes in the wet 1999 St Mary’s race; from 15th on the grid, he was passing Gerry Marshall for the lead on the first lap, and had pulled out 20sec on his nearest pursuer by lap two. On lap three Grant spun, charged back to the front — followed by another spin!

“I learned from that,” he assures me. “It was over-enthusiasm and I know now that I could have eased off a little and still have been pulling away.”

And then some. No-one who saw him that day could comprehend his sheer pace, so to have left without the trophy must have been quite galling.

“Yes, but it means my target for this year is very clear,” says Grant “It has to be the win, and with Derek Bell alongside me, I’m hoping that will be possible. He’s a good guy and a great driver who has seen and done it all. These are specialised machines— the handling’s pretty unique! — but Derek knows how to be quick and consistent.”

There should be no problems with the car itself, for Anthony Williams has it running superbly. It is a very special MkI — complete with 3.8-litre engine, aluminium boot, bonnet and doom among other mods — which was one of three such built in March 1959: one went to Tommy Sopwith, one to Briggs Cunningham in the US, and this one to John Coombs. In 3.4 form, it debuted in Roy Salvadori’s hands at Goodwood’s Easter Meeting; then he and Bueb campaigned it throughout the year supporting the UK’s F1 events.

“Peter Sargent raced it in 3.8 form in ’60 and ’61,” says Anthony, “and then sold it to my father, who used it for club meetings until 1972.Thereafter it was laid up until Goodwood’s first Revival meeting back in 1998.

“This event suits the Jag perfectly. If I made it more competitive, it would lose its originality, but in club racing it’s fine. In fact, it’s quicker than the MkII because Sir William Lyons never developed the later model. This beats Galaxies, and the Mklls never could.”

In terms of history, the Jaguar far outshines the Galaxie you see here. It is Charles March’s own car which he bought back in 1998; he was upset at the thought of his first Revival featuring a saloon race without a Galaxie on the grid. It didn’t matter that this was a road car which would need converting; he had to have a Galaxie.

I like his reasoning, I love the car.Galaxies sound like heaven, and make the earth move, for this writer at least. No it isn’t a sophisticated device, but its 427cu.in. (7-litre) engine of approximately 400bhp does on the straights what the Jaguar’s handling does on corners makes up time.

Watching a Galaxie through a corner at speed, it looks.., well, animate. You see components flexing as much as the driver’s arms, tyres bending under the strain of the lateral movement (it’s a good half-ton heavier than the Jaguar). And you can tell by the decibel level when the captain of the ship makes his crucial decision whether to get on the throttle early and risk getting those relatively skinny rear tyres unstuck quicker than he can roll on the opposite lock; or to stay off the gas too long and risk understeering into the next county. For me and countless others, I suspect, it is an example of motor racing entertainment in its very rawest form.

Having said that, whoever pilots the Galaxie will struggle to keep up with Williams in the Jag, and Wit’s a wet race, don’t count on them even finishing on the same lap. But make no mistake, it will be enormous fun watching them try.

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